From the first days of development right up until launch day and every day since, Rare's Sea of Thieves has been driven by its earliest brainstorming session mantra: "players creating stories together." For many fans, this directive has been what has made the game so special since it launched on Xbox One and Windows last March. For others, the "tools, not rules" design was off-putting, which left the game as a success among its close-knit community, but a perceived flash in the pan for many others. Lately, though, this perception is changing. Sea of Thieves has become a sudden phenomenon on Twitch for a few weeks now, and with the biggest streamers in the world jumping ship to try it out, the studio, as well as fans old and new, are sharing their reactions to Sea of Thieves' popularity spike, and though not everyone is happy about it, they really should be.
It goes without saying that the emergent storytelling design of Sea of Thieves was always stream-friendly, but for ten months it never really penetrated the timeshare on Twitch and other platforms the way one might've expected, but that began to change a few months ago for two reasons. For one, Rare's Shrouded Spoils patch brought a huge quality of life update to the game, increasing PVE encounters and in numerous ways making the game a more robust and lively experience for all players. When popular streamer summit1g migrated to the pirate adventure game after making a name for himself playing Counter Strike: Global Offensive and DayZ on PC, his popularity helped get the game trending on Twitch. He's since made it his go-to game on streams, to the extent that he has now inspired other huge names in the Twitch world to give it a go. Just this week, Dr Disrespect and Ninja have also tried finding their sea legs among many others. Even professional baseball players have taken to streaming it.
The end result has been Sea of Thieves consistently ranking among the most viewed games on streams ten months after launch, among games like Dota 2 and Fortnite, after it not showing up much in the most played games any time since the early post-launch days. It's reached as high as #1, ahead of Epic's usually insurmountable battle royale. For Rare, the timing couldn't be much better. Their upcoming update, The Arena, introduces faster-paced PVP action in an entirely new mode separate from the main game's shared world. It seems likely these streamers will take to that mode with intrigue and delight when it launches in the weeks ahead.
The sudden interest is an opportunity to get more players on board to discover the unique game. For some fans, however, the surge in new players and viewers hasn't been as welcome. When summit1g earned his gold using an exploit referred to as "double-gunning" (carrying a pistol and a rifle allowing you to quickly fire them off one after another and killing enemy players in an instant), fans began to worry the game was being invaded by toxic new players. Across the lively fandom, there came more and more complaints that he and those he inspired to play like him weren't following the Pirate Code, a real player behavior recommendation Rare includes in the game that longtime fans have generally followed.
Some players were rightly worried about the exploit, which Rare's next patch will thankfully address. Others seemed to be playing gatekeeper, claiming some sense of ownership over the game they have loved for so long, now more than ever as new eyes are finding the game every day on streams. It makes sense in a way. So many wrote off the game in the early weeks and months after launch, and now those that stuck with it may want to feel like it's theirs, like other people had their chance to see how great the game is and they decided to ignore it instead. "You're too late," some childish part of our brains may want to tell them. "We liked Sea of Thieves before it was cool." One can understand such a viewpoint, but we shouldn't allow it to take over and become our reaction. If new players have joined the Sea of Thieves experience and become fans, they should be welcomed with open arms (careful with those hooks though) and those of us who have loved the game for months need to show them what it's like to be in this community.
If we shun players for being more aggressive on open waters — a totally valid way to play even if it's not how I or you prefer to play — that doesn't build the community. The game is built to allow for us to experiment and new players are free to do that too. When some streamers or players get aggressive to the point of bullying or trolling, of course then we want to discourage that sort of behavior, but in my experience the countless new interested players and viewers of Sea of Thieves have been a great thing for everyone and I find it hard to believe it could be anything but that.
As Sea of Thieves continues to grow like this, both in the game itself with regular updates and on Twitch, it reminds us that a service game is never done on day one. It has grown tremendously over ten months and hints of what's to come are just as promising. With more attention on the game, that puts wind in the sails at Rare to think of more ways to improve. It reminds Microsoft to trust their creators. Rare had a vision and they are bringing it to life more and more all the time. The hard work is paying off. It tells detractors, like I screamed from the crow's nest a few months ago, that however you felt about the game last March, today it's something else and our opinions must evolve with it. It reminds fans that we should embrace this surge in popularity, not play keep-away from new players.
If Sea of Thieves can ride this wave for a good while, who knows what that will mean for the future content plans? We now play video games in an age where updates and content drops can be altered based on sudden surges like this. One needs to only look at games like Fortnite and Rainbow Six Siege to see two recent examples that have been forever changed because of similar surges. More eyes mean more content, and what could be better than that?
Sea of Thieves' newfound streaming success is only a good thing. Everybody who has played the game had a first voyage at some point. Instead of trying to drive these potential new fans away, the passionate Sea of Thieves community needs to welcome them aboard. Let's all head into these uncharted waters together.
This game was featured in our Best Xbox MMOs Available in 2018 article. Why not check it out to see what else made the cut?
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